Much of today’s work is done in teams, and the composition of a work team can have significant impact on a team’s performance. One common change in team composition that can influence outcomes is the introduction of a new team member.
In particular, newcomer characteristics that signal “status” can throw existing team hierarchies into question and affect team members’ behavior. Two characteristics that have nearly universal status implications are physical attractiveness and sex. Specifically, being physically attractive or male are both seen as signals of high status.
In response to a new member joining a team and subsequent questioning of the team hierarchy, existing team members can exhibit several different “rebalancing actions.” Three examples of rebalancing actions include mimicry, ingratiation, and challenging. In this context, mimicry refers to acting like the new team member. Ingratiation refers to giving the new team member recognition. Finally, challenging refers to acting in opposition to the new team member.
RESPONSES TO A NEWCOMER’S ATTRACTIVENESS AND SEX
Researchers (Min et al., 2021) conducted an experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to teams to complete a task. After completing the first task, teams were invited back to complete a second task, at which point a new member joined the team.
The newcomer was a confederate in the study, and was either a highly attractive male, a highly attractive female, or a less attractive newcomer (the control group). Furthermore, the newcomer was either instructed to act with either a high or low level of commitment to the team task. Measures of team members’ mimicry, ingratiation, and challenge behaviors toward the new member were collected.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The results of the study show that both attractive male and female newcomers were mimicked more often by existing team members compared to less attractive newcomers. Additionally, attractive male newcomers were mimicked more when they exhibited high commitment to the team task compared to when they exhibited low commitment to the team task. On the other hand, attractive females were more likely to be mimicked when they exhibited low commitment.
Next, attractive male and female newcomers were both ingratiated towards when they exhibited high commitment. Unexpectedly, less attractive newcomers who exhibited low commitment were also ingratiated towards.
Additionally, attractive female newcomers who were highly committed to the team task were challenged by existing team members more frequently than all other types of newcomers. In contrast, attractive male newcomers who were highly committed to the task were almost never challenged.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These findings suggest that team members engage in rebalancing actions when a newcomer joins the team, and that these actions may differ depending on the newcomer’s attractiveness and sex.
The researchers suggest managers carefully consider how a newcomer’s arrival may influence the status ordering within the team, and how existing team members may respond as a result. Additionally, they say managers should pay particular attention to the finding that attractive, highly committed female newcomers were challenged much more than attractive, highly committed male newcomers. Managers should consider developing interventions in order to combat these potentially discriminatory actions.
Min, S. W., Humphrey, S. E., Aime, F., Petrenko, O. V., Quade, M. J., & Fu, S. (Q.). (2021). Dealing with new members: Team members’ reactions to newcomer’s attractiveness and sex. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.